How the iconic Wisconsin cheesehead is made

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1 in 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

You have probably seen one of the Iconic Wisconsin Cheesehead Hats. Made famous by Green Bay Packers fans, the hats are now a Dairy State staple and they’re all made in the country.

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2 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Foamation, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, does much more than the iconic wedge-shaped Cheesehead hat. You can purchase a number of cheese-inspired foam items, including soccer balls and cowboy hats.

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3 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The Factory, in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, includes a surprisingly chic retail store and event venue called The Factory on Barclay.

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4 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The legacy of Wisconsin Cheesehead is due to Ralph Bruno, founder of Foamation and inventor of the original Cheesehead foam hat.

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5 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

All of Foamation’s products are made in its Milwaukee plant and its operations are more analog than you might think. Each hat is handmade.

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6 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The first step is to dispense the poly liquid into a paper cup.

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7 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Then a Foamation employee uses what he likens to a McFlurry machine to mix the poly.

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8 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

All foam hats are made in metal molds, some of which have been used for years.

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9 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

To make a hat, you start by heating the mold with a hair dryer and then spraying it with a “mold release agent”.

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10 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Then the mixed liquid poly is poured from the paper cup into the prepared mold. It starts to expand right away.

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11 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

In addition to hats, the Cheesehead Factory also makes cheese-inspired foam coasters in the shape of the state of Wisconsin. These are made in the same way as hats.

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12 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The factory also makes Cheesehead foam soccer balls, a nod to the company’s close ties to the Green Bay Packers and the soccer fandom.

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13 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Once the poly is poured, the cover is placed back on the mold. On a tour of the Foamation factory, tour participants can make their own hats and get a hands-on experience that Ralph Bruno calls “display-making”.

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14 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Molds and lids are held in place by trailer jacks for several minutes, measured by the jingling of a kitchen timer. Each product takes a different time for the poly to cure.

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15 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

As the poly expands, some will leak out of the mold and will need to be cut off at the end of the process.

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16 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

When the mold lids are removed, the final product is revealed for the first time.

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17 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Here is a foam hat, hardened and ready to be removed from the mold.

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18 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Employees should remove each item from its mold carefully, so as not to damage the newly cured foam. The release agent sprayed in advance on each mold greatly facilitates removal.

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19 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

This is what the top hat looks like when taken out of the mold.

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20 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The next step is to squeeze the foam by hand to release any air bubbles that may have formed during the curing process.

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21 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

And voila, a foam top hat.

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22 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The last step, before putting the hat up for sale, is to trim the excess foam around its edges.

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23 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The extra leftovers form colorful trash cans around Foamation’s headquarters.

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24 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Tour participants can choose which Foamation products they want to make on the tour. Bruno says the traditional Cheesehead hat is actually not the most popular choice, as they’re much easier to find in stores across the state.

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25 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The tour also includes a brief history of Foamation and the Cheesehead Hat, with plenty of interesting details about Bruno’s original hat (and a special surprise hidden in what was once a bank vault in the building’s previous life).

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26 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

A guide leads the group through The Wedge of Allegiance.

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27 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

The factory also has a display of non-Cheesehead hats that the company has made in the past, some for other sports teams and fandoms, like the Nebraska cornhead hat.

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28 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Exit through the gift shop, which is awash in that iconic orange-yellow foam.

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29 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

Foamation sells Cheesehead t-shirts, figurines, and a bunch of other foam-free items in their retail store. You can even get a COVID-19 mask that heralds your love of the dairy state.

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30 of 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

After purchasing a Cheesehead hat, a photo op awaits outside the factory. I could not resist.


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